Sunday 29 June 2014

Ellen Terry: The Painter's Actress

Yesterday the Walker Family trundled off to the lovely village of Compton again to visit the Watts Gallery and its current exhibition 'Ellen Terry: The Painter's Actress'...

The connection between the beautiful Miss Terry and the Watts Gallery is, of course, that a very young Ellen married G F Watts.  Like all good Victorian marriages she was a teenager and he was a man in his 40s with a great big beard and it lasted all of five minutes.  Mind you, in the grand scheme of things both parties seem to emerge from the debacle with more dignity than some other couples I could mention.  Yes, Ruskins, I'm looking at you.  Well, despite the disastrous marriage, her marriage began her mirror career as painter's muse, in works such as this...

Choosing (1864) G F Watts
A very familiar image from the National Portrait Gallery, this picture is often unkindly interpreted as his snide dig at his flighty bride being unable to tell quality from glitz, as she sniffs the scentless blossoms while seemingly unaware of the violets in her hand.  Similarly, close friend Julia Margaret Cameron's image of Ellen aged 16 (in Tennyson's bathroom) is entitled Sadness and is taken as a true reflection of the subject at that moment in her life.

Sadness, Ellen Terry at 16 (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron
While undoubtedly the marriage was a trainwreck, what this exhibition highlights was that Ellen was from a very early age, an actress and understood what was required of her in an image.  It is almost a disservice to her to read the images of her in 1864 as being too biographical, as that underestimates her skill and that of the artists she posed for.

Charles John Kean and Ellen Terry
as Leontes and Mamillius in 'The Winter's Tale'
It is startling how young Ellen was when she started her career.  Following her parents onto the stage, she was even born in theatrical lodgings, and acting well and truly ran in her blood.  'The Winter's Tale', pictured above, marked her first Shakespearean role at the age of 9.  She was noted for her heart-touching pathos, a skill which is clearly demonstrated in Cameron's photograph.

The Sisters (1863) G F Watts
It was actually Ellen's elder sister Kate who caught the artist's eye first of all, and Watts invited Kate and Ellen to pose for him.  Ellen found the artist's studio to be a more elaborate and exciting stage than she could ever have imagined, and I think a testament to this is the depth of emotion in the painting The Sisters.  In the catalogue for the exhibition, they liken the image to that of Rossetti's Golden Head by Golden Head which I think is an apt comparison.  The detail he painted into her expression is breath-taking and it's easy to see how he fell in love with her.

Watchman, What of the Night? (1864) G F Watts
With Watts, Ellen was able to play different roles.  She was Ophelia, she was Joan of Arc, she posed endlessly for him and he sketched and painted her endlessly.  It seems the only role she couldn't comfortably pull off was that of wife and the couple separated in 1865.

Ellen Terry (1872)
Once out of her marital restraints, Ellen went back to the stage and became the icon we know her to be today.  It would be easy to see a break between her life as a muse/wife and the depiction of it in paint, and her life as an actress and the depiction of it in photographs.  She seems to have benefited from the explosion of celebrity photographs in the 1870s, and it is possible to see her costumes and skill in how she portrayed a part, most famously in roles such as Lady Macbeth in 1888.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1888)
Mind you, this exhibition shows that even when she had stopped being an artist's wife, she did not stop inspiring artists to create art based on her performances.  Most famously, we have the Singer Sargent's image of her as the ruthlessly ambitious Lady Macbeth, but we also have Aubrey Beardsley's stark black and white image of her, and Ellen's son, Edward Gordon Craig's own pictures of his mother.

Ellen Terry as Ophelia (1896) Edward Gordon Craig

Ellen Terry as Rosamund de Clifford in Tennyson's Becket (1893) Aubrey Beardsley
The exhibition is beautiful.  You get the chance to see film of Ellen and hear her voice, as well as seeing the beautiful canvases painted with such inspiration and passion by her husband.  After seeing the exhibition I would prefer to think of their marriage as an artistic collaboration that burnt bright and burnt quickly.  I think it is a disservice to both to pigeonhole them in the old man/child bride stereotype.  Ellen Terry continues to be one of those women who inspires as a woman who pursued her art and in turn provoked the most astonishing artistic response in others.

The exhibition runs until 11 November 2014 and further details can be found here.

Friday 27 June 2014

Review: The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress

Happy Wombat Friday, dear readers, and welcome to another book review from our long, hot summer of reading.  Today, I'll tell you about The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress by Amita Murray...

The story revolves around Rachel Faraday, seamstress and aspiring painter, a great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelite artists.  She has a complicated past and is trying to keep her business going despite her own reticence and the prejudice of the day.  One night she meets a young man, Harry Twyfold, only to learn the next morning that he has been arrested for murder.  Twyfold has reason to kill the victim but so too does everyone else it seems.  While trying to prove his innocence, Rachel pursues her own artistic vision under the tutelage of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, raw and unpredictable after the death of his wife. Can she use the magic of her artistic visions to solve the mystery of the murder or will Twyfold hang?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti after the death of Elizabeth Siddal

Lizzie Siddal, whose presence is felt in the book
I very much enjoyed the book, with its lush description and dense detail.  You get to know Rachel, the confused, ambitious, creative seamstress who wishes to stun the world with her talent.  The idea of someone painting onto fabric and creating dresses from the images was wonderful, it really captured the imagination.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the society that Rachel moved uneasily in.  Her patrons are striving to achieve just the bohemian uncertainty that Rachel possesses, whilst simultaneously looking down at her for behaving like that.  You get a definite sense of the shifting sands of society, mirroring the uncertain fate of Twyfold.

Amita Murray
The murder mystery is intriguing and well plotted and I enjoyed the discussion of the artists and the art that we know so well.  I'm happy to hear this is the first in a series of books about Rachel and her Pre-Raphaelite aspirations.  Amita has created a character who explores a world familiar to us, and through her we can imagine what dangers and opportunities lie in our desires.  I'm looking forward to book two already...

The Pre-Raphaelite Seamstress is available from Amazon UK (here) or US (here).

Sunday 22 June 2014

Review: That Summer

Hello again, and here is the second review of this weekend.  Today I'm reviewing a splendid novel entitled That Summer by Lauren Willig...

That Summer has a dual timeline telling two intertwining stories.  In present day America, Julia Conley learns that she has inherited her great-aunt's house in London.  She's not been back since her mother died when she was six, but her return to England awakens some ghosts from her past.  When clearing the house she finds a Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece hidden in a false panel in a wardrobe.  How did it get there and what did it have to do with her family?

In 1849, a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage falls in love with a Pre-Raphaelite painter who has come to paint her portrait.  His admiration of the medieval artefacts that fill her home cause the two to be caught up in a romance that plays out in life and on canvas.

Tristan and Isolde J W Waterhouse
This is the subject of one of the central paintings in the novel
I liked this book because it reminded me of two of my favourite novels.  It obviously bears comparison with Possession by A S Byatt due to the dual timeline and Victorian subject matter, but it also reminded me of Michael J Bird's Maelstrom (based on his tv drama), a tale of a woman who inherits more than merely bricks and mortar.

I felt the pacing of the novel was great, each time period leaving you with a cliffhanger, drawing you back in when you returned.  I liked both Julia and Imogen, the two women in the story, and found Julia's view of England very interesting. It's always fascinating to read a familiar thing through someone else's eyes. It isn't easy to slot a fictional artist into the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, but with Gavin Thorne, Willig has made someone who is believable and familiar, without being an amalgam of other members of the circle.  He seemed distinctive and you almost felt like you should of heard of him.  I'll come to his name in a moment...

Millais' Mariana is recognisable as Thorne's first picture we encounter
I liked both parts of the story, did not see the twists and turns coming and really wanted to be left a big rambly house filled with hidden treasures, thank you very much.  I pretty much read it in a day, which was a pleasure as I don't often get a day spare to read in and it was serendipitous that I had such a lovely book to spend the day with.

Now, a couple of notes of caution.  The Pre-Raphaelite artist is called Gavin.  That did jar a little as Victorians were not really called Gavin.  If you know just reading the name that you will not be havin' the Gavin then this is not the book for you.  There are a couple of other things that are niggly (endless teacakes that aren't teacakes/'I'm parked just down the block') but for me, the pleasure of the book was enough to get past these and just enjoy it.  You really do care about Imogen and Gav, and what Julia will find out, plus as  Pre-Raphaelite art historian I enjoyed the vicarious pleasure of finding it out alongside her.

So, in summary, this was a marvellous read, speedily consumed and perfect in its subject matter.  Any pickiness I might have felt about niggles were completely outweighed by how smoothly you are taken in to the story and how much you care about the outcome of both stories.  A worth addition to the Pre-Raphaelite fiction library and a book I will gleefully recommend for summer reading.

That Summer is available from Amazon US here and Amazon UK here and from all splendid bookshops.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Review: Stand There! She Shouted

Welcome to a weekend of book reviews.  I have two and possibly a third for you this weekend, and I hope to sneak a few more in this month as there is nothing like a good read during a long hot summer.  A quick note about my book reviews - I never review a book I didn't like.  I'm a nice, honest woman, but also I know how damn hard it is to write a book, so my promise to you is that if I love it, I'll review it.  If I don't like it, I won't, even though increasingly I am friends with the authors.  I often get free copies of books now (such are the perks of being infamous) but that makes no difference.  All reviews are honest and the result of ignoring my wifely duties for as long as it took to read it.  Moving on...

Right, first up is a delightful book with one of the funniest titles I've heard for ages.  I bring you Stand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron...

I didn't know very much about this book when I requested a review copy apart from the fact that I was intrigued by the front illustration.  This is an illustrated biography of Julia Margaret Cameron's life, from her childhood in India and France, through her life at Freshwater, her career as a photographer and her final years in Ceylon.

It is intended for children aged 8 to 12, which means it is perfect for my daughter, Lily-Rose, not least because things like this keep happening to her...

Yes, I know, it's only a matter of time before Social Services pay us a visit for over-Victorianising our child.  The shame.  Anyway, back to the book.  Looking at the front cover of the book, you will see an illustration of Cameron taking this photograph...

Paul and Virginia (1864)
I think Bagram Ibatoulline's illustration of Susan Golman Rubin's text is what really makes this a very special book.  Ibatoulline's ability to show you the scene that made the art is just enchanting.  Look, here's another one...

Annie, My First Success (1864)
Ibatoulline shows you Cameron at work on such a famous image and it helps you understand what was involved in the process, and see the image as it would have been, in front of the photographer.  As I am currently writing my next book which includes a photographer in 1865, I was pleased to find this page of illustrations...

How lovely. And useful.

Don't be put off by the fact that it's a children's book.  You could spend a month reading an adult biography of Cameron and not come away with as many facts as this little gem imparted to me in an afternoon.  It is a charming companion piece to grown-up books because I got a real sense of the woman and her life.  I loved the illustration of her walking down a street with her bangles jingling and a cup of tea, and the story of how children would run away from her and had to be bribed with sweets to pose.

Despite being aimed at 8 to 12 year olds, it has endnotes for the quotes, a decent bibliography and an index.  Bravo to the publishers, Candlewick Press, for realising that children deserve scholarly books and that adults may want somewhere to start in their studies.  Neither is the book a fluffy piece of loved-up biography; you really get the impression that Cameron was as maddening as she was brilliant.  Her strangeness in dress and manners are amply displayed here, as is the fact that she never doubted her own opinion on things.  She is a great role model for girls who need to know it is alright to be different and determined in their art and life.

Julia Margaret Cameron Henry Herschel Hay Cameron
To sum up, this is a lovely book.  If you have a child to use as an excuse to buy it, then do so.  If not, just buy it, it's lovely.  You'll learn something, get to know a fascinating woman and see some of the most charming illustrations you'll see for ages.

You can pre-order this book direct from the publishers here, from Amazon US here, and from Amazon UK here.  It will be released in September this year.

See you tomorrow...

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Selling Art and Heart: The Perils of Auction

Today was the auction at Christie's that featured Isabella and the Pot of Basil...

Now, as you will remember from my last post, Delaware Art Museum were selling this picture in order to fill some of the fiscal hole they had dug themselves into.  They were looking for £5m to £8m from the sale.  They made £2.5m.  There was no reserve and so it sold for half of the lower estimate.  This defies belief on many, many levels and now begs the question if the Hunt failed to earn them enough, what else will be added to the auction block so that Delaware can continue to exist.  I don't see it as karma, I wish they had earned as much money as that painting was worth, more even.  Now we have to wait and see what the feckless board of Delaware will do next.  My sympathy is with the staff of the Art Museum who have to be on the front line of this situation, taking the flak.  I bet it isn't a member of the board answering the phone or manning their Facebook page today.

Moving on, the rest of the sale was a very mixed bag.  Starting with the bad...

The Home Quartette: Mrs Vernon Lushington and her children (1883)
Arthur Hughes
There were a number of passes (or no sales) in the auction including this beautiful work by Arthur Hughes, which fell short of it's estimated price £150,000 (it only reached £95,000).  Likewise Millais' portraits of The Very Reverend Thomas William Jex-Blake and Mrs Henrietta Jex-Blake failed to make their reserve and weren't sold.

An Autumnal Glow (1882) John Atkinson Grimshaw
The set of Grimshaws on offer had mixed fortunes.  An Autumnal Glow surpassed its £150,000 top limit and selling at £170,000.  However, four of the five other Grimshaws either didn't make the bottom limit or were just not sold.  Only View from Blackfriars Bridge by Moonlight made £160,000, the middle of the estimate.

While his Pre-Raphaelite brother will no doubt grab all the headlines, it has to be said that the Rossetti's in the sale weren't exactly outstanding performers.  From St John Comforting the Virgin at the Foot of the Cross (£3,000 less than the bottom estimate), a sketch for Lady Lilith (£2,400, under the £3,000 bottom estimate) Hesterna Rosa (£1,000 less than bottom estimate) and a sketch for Found (bottom estimate), things did not look so bright.  

Rosa Triplex (1874)
Rosa Triplex from Virginia Surtees' collection made £750,000, just over the bottom estimate and Ruth and Boaz made £70,000, again just over the £60,000 bottom. Not a good day for Rossetti really. Unless you count Rossetti painting 'lovely Guggums' by Douglas Percy Bliss, which exceeded its estimate of £1,500-£2,000 by £10,000, selling at £12,000.

Rossetti painting 'lovely Guggums' Douglas Percy Bliss
So, what did well?  It was a good day for the women artists. Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale's Lancelot and Elaine made £2,000 more than the top estimate (ironically the same amount the her friend Byam Shaw's picture made below his bottom estimate).  This beautiful gem from stained glass artist Margaret Agnes Rope went soaring past its £6,000 to £8,000 estimate and came romping home with £22,000...

Marie Spartali Stillman's A Lady with Peacocks in a garden, an Italianate landscape beyond made £8,500 and Mary Louisa Gow's A Kiss Goodnight made £16,000.  Big result of the afternoon has to be Elizabeth Siddal's St Agnes Eve which was valued as between £2,500 to £3,500 and was sold for £13,000.

So, to sum up, many of the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite pictures did not perform well in the auction this afternoon.  You would think that Rossetti would be a safe bet but his art only just made bottom estimates or faltered around the middle.  Hunt's A Staircase at Rochester Castle, Kent ploughed past its £10,000-£15,000 estimate to make £38,000, which makes no sense in respect to how badly Isabella did.  Maybe it came down to bad press, and Isabella had become tainted in the light of the outcry against Delaware.  It was good to see how well the women artists did, but again women artists have been gaining popular reputation lately with some good exhibitions and a tv series to boost their standing. 

The stand-out lot in terms of the amount of money it raked in was this one...

Nadia (c.1921) Gerald Leslie Brockhurst
Not my cup of tea, but obviously someone's because it sold for £105,000 after being valued at between £20,000 to £30,000.  Goodness me.  Actually, I far preferred this...

Primavera (1914) George Clausen
For twentieth century figurative, give me pink and nudie every time.  This is beautiful and made £75,000, just below its upper limit.

The thing to remember after what was a genuinely upsetting afternoon is that although Isabella has presumably gone into a private collection, maybe the person who calls it their own tonight will value it more than the board of Delaware Art Museum.  We won't get to see it very often, maybe very little, but it still exists and possibly in safer hands tonight.  I think a bigger worry is what will now happen with Delaware and their financial problem.  

We wait and see.  Nervously.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Delaware, Disposals and Dispair

I've wanted to write this post for a little while now as quite a few people have asked me my opinion of the upcoming sale of this painting...

Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1867) William Holman Hunt
On Tuesday 17th June, this painting will go under the hammer at Christies to raise money for the art gallery that currently owns it.  The sale of it has caused an outcry within the Pre-Raphaelite community and a shiver down the spine of museum curators.  What on earth happened?

The sale was announced last year, or rather Delaware Art Museum announced that in order to raise $30 million it would have to sell up to 4 works of art.  The situation that led to this quiet announcement had happened over the preceding years when the museum decided to have building works done in 2005.  The deadline to pay for the expansion works has come and the fund-raising has failed.  In order to pay the $20 million in building works and increase their reserve to $37 million, the works are being sold.  The Artistic Director at the time of the decision to sell was Danielle Rice, who has spoken of the struggle not to sell paintings in order to pay for things: ' board always thinks 'we can always sell art'.'  She threatened to leave if they took that option and has since found a position elsewhere.
Milking Time Winslow Homer
Since Isabella was announced as up for sale, two more works have been taken off the walls, Milking Time, possibly one of the most popular works in the collection (and the lead image of the museum's 2012 advertising campaign), and a mobile by Alexander Calder.  The proposed fourth work has not been hinted at yet and the latter two still have yet to be confirmed.  Calls are still being made for Isabella to be removed from the sale on Tuesday, even though it is on the cover of the catalogue.

Mrs Walker considers how many kidneys she'd have to sell to afford any of it...
So, here is my opinion: I don't like it one little bit, but not for the reason that most people are upset.  Yes, it's terrible that a work of art is being sold because of a miscalculation, in fact it seems downright stupid.  To spend the money before having it in your pocket is ridiculous.  To sell paintings to pay for an expansion makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  To have one of the outstanding Pre-Raphaelite collections in your country and sell the only painting you have by one of the founding brothers is a level of gob-smacking incompetence that beggar's belief.  But that's not my biggest problem.  My problem is that Delaware are pushing a dangerous precedence.  It says to the world 'Art is an asset and assets can be disposed of.'  To anyone in the museum business in the UK this will all sound chillingly familiar...

Triumph of Love (1871) Edward Burne-Jones
In 2008, one of my favourite galleries sold this beautiful painting by Edward Burne-Jones.  It came off the wall and presumably after the sale went into a private collection, along with this gem...

Jasmine (1880) Albert Moore
It was a moment that split the museum world and resulted in the Museum Association changing its guidelines on disposal.  Before this point the only reason to dispose was to acquire something else.  The idea that you could dispose 'for the greater good' (to quote Hot Fuzz) was unthinkable and got you threatened with the removal of your accredited state.  Then the Watts Gallery near Guildford decided the only way to safeguard the future of its collection was to sell two works that were not by Watts.  Their historic building was terrifying and needed urgent care to stop it damaging the works of art.  I'd been to the Watts before this point and as much as I loved it, the building made me cry (and I've worked in some rickety museum buildings in my time).  By disposing of two works that had no bearing on the collection, in order to not only save everything but to make it the fabulous monument to one of the 19th century's finest talents, the Watts Gallery took a bold step.  They found support, nervous but genuine, and the Museums Association, after condemning and threatening, changed the rules to support their sensible decision.  The Watts Gallery today is amazing and a pleasure to visit.

A Riverbank (1947) L S Lowry
The flip side of this is that in 2006, Bury Metropolitan Borough Council sold LS Lowry's A Riverbank at auction for £1.4 to fill a gap in their finances.  The painting had been given to Bury Art Gallery by the artist as a gift to his home town.  The money was not destined to be put back into the art gallery, it was used to keep services open, save jobs and basically used like any money obtained by the Council through the disposal of an asset.  Bury had resigned from the Museum Association before they had a chance to expel them. They lost their accredited status making them ineligible for grant aid or assistance (or at least making it very, very difficult to apply for it).

The problem with any gallery selling a painting is that it tells the world that the pictures in an art gallery are assets, like land, computers, buildings, and in one way, of course they are right.  As the Watts Gallery proved, many collections of any age have picked up pieces along the way that make no sense in that gallery and the money they could raise could give all the other pieces a new lease of life.  The work done at the Watts is an astonishing transformation and the Moore and the Burne-Jones are not missed in the story the gallery tells us.  However, the other end of the line is Bury's Council taking a picture from the walls to sell for bin collections to go ahead for another year or for old people to have meals delivered.  No-one wants to be in the council meeting where you have to argue that a painting is more important than providing free school meals to under-privileged kids but you can only sell a painting once.  As Mr Walker tells me, you could sell every single painting in the country and it would support our social security budget for about half an hour.  Then what will you do?

Men of the Docks (1912) George Bellows
An interesting middle-ground seems to have been found in the actions of Randolph College, Lynchburg, Virginia whose gallery, the Maier Museum of Art sold Men of the Docks to the National Gallery in London for $25.5 million.  There was an outcry on one side of the ocean and a welcome party on the other, but the work of art remained in public hands.  If the main issue that many seem to have with the Delaware sale is that it will end up in private hands, surely this is an acceptable alternative? Possibly not to the museum visitor in Virginia.

Recently the De Morgan collection has found itself without a home again but they have not sold any of the collection in order to ensure a permanence residence.  However, at present, you cannot visit the collection.  When a similar situation occurred with the lovely Folk Art Museum in New York who could no longer afford to stay in their building, they moved somewhere smaller and more affordable, not selling anything to do so.

So, what is the worse case scenario for the sale of the Holman Hunt on Tuesday?  If it does end up in private hands, which seems to be the case most likely and most feared, it might disappear into someone's house and never be seen in public again.  That would be terrible, but that's not the worst thing that would happen.  If the work entered the collection of someone like Lord Lloyd Webber, then you could ask to borrow it for exhibitions, you could ask to be allowed to see it privately.  There is no guarantee that either of these requests would be successful but the work would be cared for, would still exist and the sale would benefit Delaware and their expansion.

Far worse would be that the picture doesn't sell.  This is known in the auction trade as a 'bought in' and ironically happened to this painting in 1871. Then what?  It would be better that the picture sold for $30 million to a private collection than everything from Delaware be sold, which is a possibility if they can't repay the loan.

Better that they sell the picture and learn a lesson, but I think that might be a bit of a stretch.  As it is, I think the smell of this sale (and any subsequent) will follow the museum around for quite a while.

Sunday 8 June 2014

The Portraits of Sophia Gray

There are few pictures in the Pre-Raphaelite art world that seem to elicit the same level of fervent passion as one by John Everett Millais.  No, not this one...

Yes, yes, we all love Ophelia, floaty lady, little robin, all that stuff.  That wasn't the one I was talking about, because although we love Ophelia I have rarely seen the level of reaction to it as to this gem...

Portrait of a Girl (1857) John Everett Millais
My heavens, I have seen both men and women prostrate themselves in front of this beautiful picture.  The challenging tilt of this 14 year old's chin seems to do funny things to people not just now but throughout this picture's history.  Brace yourself, it's not a cheery history, but maybe that's the point.  This is the story of Sophia Margaret Gray.

Sophia, aged 11
by Millais
Sophia Gray, more commonly known as Sophy, was the younger sister of Effie, wife of Ruskin and Millais.  She hit a rather difficult age just as her sister was annulling one marriage and escaping to another, rather more happier one.  She was staying with her sister in the Ruskin household in the last years of the marriage and was by her sister's side as she left her husband.  Sophy was 11 years old at the time.  Millais produced the portrait on the left for his beloved's parents, and Sophy acted as go-between for Millais and her sister, visiting the artist's studio to deliver messages and waiting patiently for replies.

 Unfortunately for Sophy, she became a part of the mess her sister's marriage became, being pulled from one camp to another as the Ruskins and the Grays dismantled all goodwill and reason.  The affect this must have had on the feelings of a child, a very intelligent child, can only be speculated about but is worth bearing in mind.

Autumn Leaves (1855-56) J E Millais
When her sister finally married Millais, the couple settled close to the Gray home and Sophy was available to act as model for her brother-in-law.  As a 13 year old girl, she appeared in the centre of the striking composition of Autumn Leaves, casting the leaves onto the bonfire while the other girls look on but seem lost in thought.  Sophy looks out at us and her gesture is ostentatious, marking symbolism in her action.  The painting hints at the end of a day (it is painted at twilight), the end of a season and possibly the end of innocence, with overtones of the Garden of Eden.  Sophy acts as the child making a sacrifice to end something.  She looks at us in challenge, as an equal.

Apple Blossoms (Spring) (1856-9) J E Millais
 On a similar theme, Sophy is one of many teenaged girls on the cusp of womanhood.  On the far left, arranging her hair, Sophie watches over the scene as her other sister, Alice, on the far right, looks out at the audience provocatively. In the midst of the two images came the famous portrait of Sophy, aged 14 years old.

Portrait of a Girl (or Sophy Gray) is a very difficult picture.  It is stunningly beautiful, direct, sensual and confrontational, but at the same time is a picture of a child.  In some ways it shares heritage with The Bridesmaid rather than this image of her sister.

Alice Gray (1857)

The Bridesmaid (1851)

Painted in the same year as the image on the right of her sister Alice, the portrait Millais produced of Sophy is unmistakably sexually charged.  While Alice appears cherubic and charming, Sophy is a chin-tilt towards sex, much like the earlier image of the bridesmaid who is longing to dream of her own lover.  Alice appears to have a pair of wings strapped to her, with the hint of halo in her hair, whereas her sister has her heart on display with a viola, or 'heartsease' in the centre.  I am torn between thinking it was an actual piece of clothing that Sophy owned, or else Millais used the flower to symbolise some romantic matter that the young girl was involved with, which seems in keeping with the manner he chose to display her.

Interestingly, unlike other family portraits, the striking painting of Sophy was not kept in the family and was sold to George Price Boyce who hung her beside this image...

Bocca Baciata (1859) D G Rossetti
He apparently treated them as companion pieces which adds a layer of meaning to little Sophy.  Certainly her attitude in the painting seems no more innocent than Fanny Cornforth in Bocca Baciata and her gaze is more direct.  Boyce acquired the image of Fanny because of his desire for the subject and I don't think it is unfair to assume that his reasons for acquiring the image of Sophy were much different as his treatment of the picture was the same.

A reason for the disposal of the portrait might have been to do with the apparent cooling in relations between Effie and Sophy due to the heating-up between Millais and his sister in law.  This strikes me as a similar rumour to the Rossetti-May Morris gossip.  It is entirely likely that Sophy liked her brother-in-law and his regard for her, resulting in one of his finest works, is obvious, but seeing as he had just risked all for one woman, it is unlikely he'd bother messing about with her little sister.  Also, when the Millais moved to London then Sophy was invited to visit regularly and when Sophy became ill, her sister was frequently at her bedside.

Sophia Gray (c.1880) Charles Perugini
Her transition into womanhood was not as smooth as her artistic doppelganger would have you believe.  Sophy became ill, her mental and physical state deteriorating together as she grew anorexic and 'hysterical'.  She was sent away for her health, staying with specialists in lunacy and her behaviour caused much concern among her family and friends.  She did not marry until she was 30, but then wed James Caird, a Jute manufacturer from Dundee.  She gave birth to a daughter, Beatrix, the following year, but seems to have chosen as poorly as her sister in her first husband.  The couple grew distant and Sophy spent most of the rest of her life alone with her daughter, who was painted by Millais, just like her mother.

Beatrix Caird (1879) J E Millais
In 1880, Millais painted a final portrait of his sister-in-law.  In marked contrast to the precocious, wild-spirited child, the adult Sophy looks fragile and timid.

Sophia Caird (1880) J E Millais
The slightness of the figure is partly disguised by the loose-handling of the paint and the dark background, but the black band around her waist is worryingly small.  Grey peppers her hair and she is markedly less comfortable than even the Perugini portrait which it resembles.  She seems to have become a doll, a studied performance rather than the modern woman-child she had started as, and I find the angle of her hands in the final portrait uncomfortable, almost unnatural.

Sophy died in 1882, aged only 38.  The cause of death was given as exhaustion and atrophy of nervous system over 17 years, which sounds like a euphemism for struggling to find a physical reason for her ongoing mental illness.  There are predictable rumours that she killed herself, but so far they have remained without any further proof than she was mentally ill.

Little Beatrix died in 1888, aged only 14, the same age her mother had been in the most famous portrait of her.

If it is ever released, the upcoming film Effie will have a portrayal of Sophy.  We have to currently wait until September for that...